Summit ski resorts get failing grades for environmental efforts
BRECKENRIDGE – The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition issued its 2002-03 environmental scorecard Monday, giving Summit and Eagle county ski resorts failing grades for their environmental practices.
The annual scorecard provides skiers with the information they need to choose environmentally friendly ski destinations throughout the West. This year, the coalition graded 70 ski areas in New Mexico, California, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Of the nine states the coalition evaluated, California and Nevada received the highest regional scores – a B, with a score of 60.1 out of 100 – and Idaho, Montana and Wyoming received the worst, with a grade of D and a score of 43.6. The Colorado and New Mexico region received a C, with a score of 58.7.
The coalition evaluated resorts using 10 criteria, including new or proposed terrain expansion, commercial development on undisturbed land, impacts to environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands and roadless areas, increased snowmaking, protecting water quality, conservation and vehicle emissions reduction.
The coalition is composed of committee organizations from Colorado Wild, the Crystal Conservation Coalition of Washington, Friends of the Inyo and the Sierra Nevada Alliance in California and Save Our Canyons of Utah.
Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk tied for the highest grade on the scorecard partly because of their progressive approach toward resource and energy efficiency. Aspen Skiing Co. resorts each have one wind-powered lift, use recycled motor oil in vehicle shops and are switching to a biodiesel fuel blend for all snowcats.
Although Breckenridge also uses recycled oil and biodiesel fuels, the coalition gave it and Vail Mountain the two lowest grades because of proposed and recently implemented terrain expansions and development projects.
Coalition research associate Ben Doon said those expansions have affected large tracts of previously undisturbed land and destroyed wildlife habitat, old growth forests and wetlands.
“Despite loving to ski myself, the fact is that ski areas can cause major environmental impacts,” said Joan Clayburgh, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Alliance. “Ski areas can become better stewards of our environment if held accountable and given encouragement by consumers.”
Darcy Thompson of Washington state’s Crystal Conservation Coalition said ski runs are nothing more than clearcuts on steep slopes, and most occur on public land, because 90 percent of ski areas in the West lease their land from the U.S. Forest Service.
The coalition views most development as a negative aspect on the slopes, regardless of how carefully construction is planned to minimize impacts.
“Some resorts have a
“develop-at-all-costs’ attitude, regardless of environmental impacts or public opposition,” said Lisa Smith of Utah’s Save Our Canyons. “Other resorts rely on more caring environmental management decisions.”
The coalition also noted in the report that flat skier numbers throughout the nation should result in fewer expansions, but the opposite is true.
“At some point,” Doon said, “the public should start to wonder why the Forest Service continues to approve expansion after expansion for a relatively high-impact industry with a flat customer market.”
High Country resorts
Those rating the ski resorts said Breckenridge lost points for its proposed expansion north along the Tenmile Range and the numerous on-
mountain improvements the ski company built this summer.
Copper Mountain received its low score for real estate development at the base, for developing mountaintop facilities, adding new roads and increasing snowmaking.
Arapahoe Basin was punished for its proposal to include Montezuma Bowl and the Beavers as new ski terrain, increasing water use for its new snowmaking system and water contamination.
Coalition members gave Keystone its D score for its proposal to expand into Jones Gulch, base area development and roads, impacts to old-growth forests in Jones Gulch and additional snowmaking – making it the largest snowmaking system in the state.
Vail Mountain received its low score for its Category III expansion – now called Blue Sky Basin – and new road construction in the Two Elk Roadless Area. The scorecard noted two environmental violations at the resort, including a road that was built illegally and affected almost an acre of wetlands and a Clean Water Act violation associated with an illegal logging road.
Beaver Creek Resort was punished for its proposal to zone 1,300 acres for additional terrain into a roadless area, extensive real estate development and a proposed industrial area.
According to the scorecard, none of the Summit or Eagle county resort officials returned survey questions asking how they have addressed wildlife habitat and forest protection; recycling, water and energy conservation; traffic or emissions reduction. Those with higher scores did reply to surveys.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arapahoe Basin D 39.3
Breckenridge F 24.3
Copper Mountain D 43.0
Keystone D 39.3
Vail Mountain F 20.6
Beaver Creek F 35.5
To see detailed scorecards, log on to http://www.skiareacitizens.com.
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